Going Plant-based? By Leaps or by Baby Steps?
By Vesanto Melina MS, Registered Dietitian
Have you been considering a shift towards a plant-based diet? Does a sudden leap towards an entirely vegan diet seem too overwhelming? Could you commit to eating one plant based dinner each week? How about a whole day of vegan meals? Every plant based choice you make helps the environment, animals, and, provided it is composed of whole foods, your health as well. Here are a few tips to help guide you smoothly in the plant based direction—at your own speed.
Switching what you pour over cereal is a simple yet impactful choice. Have you ever noticed those muscular young men in the grocery store with soy or another nondairy milk in their shopping carts? They, like millions of others, are opting for soy, almond, coconut, cashew, hemp, oat and other non-dairy milks instead of dairy. In fact, so many people are making this switch that America’s two biggest milk producers, Borden and Dean Foods, have filed for bankruptcy. Non-dairy milks feature as much calcium and vitamin D as dairy milk if you make sure to choose the fortified varieties. Note that soy milk can deliver 6-8 grams of protein per cup, whereas many others such as rice or almond milk may provide only a gram of protein. (Check labels).
When meal planning, it is natural to gravitate to foods that have been lifelong favorites. It can be reassuring to know we typically rely on about 10 familiar recipes. In making a switch, we often discover we already have in our repertoire several meals we love that are entirely plant-based, or could be with minor changes. If the occasional bean-based meal you had as a child was unappealing, recognize that over 20 types of beans, peas, lentils and soyfoods are commonly used, in delicious ways, in cuisines around the world. You are entering a new world! Make a point of exploring vegetables, grains, nuts, seeds, legumes, and fruits you have never tasted and gradually expand your repertoire by trying a new dish every week. Look for Cooking Vegan (by V Melina and J Forest) for some tried and true winners.
Online groups can be helpful for local resources and connections. Search through Facebook or through meetup.com, for example doing a search using the words “vegan” and your city or locality. Many groups welcome those aren’t defining themselves with a “v” word but who simply want to eat more plant-based.
An excellent and inexpensive ($20 US) online cooking series is available at www.bravopb.com/ Chef Ramses Bravo will teach you fingertip-saving knife skills and health-supportive food preparation. Bravo’s goal in this creating this excellent series is to make it available and affordable for everyone.
Vesanto Melina is author of award winning books on plant-based nutrition and foods. Her websites are nutrispeak.com, becomingvegan.ca and kickdiabetescookbook.com.